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Starved and forced to sex work 

Porous borders land Zim sisters in Maseru misery

SECHABA MOKHETHI

Two Zimbabwean sisters were ensnared and forced into prostitution in Maseru, putting under the spotlight the challenge of porous borders in the Southern Africa region where migrants use fake passports and bribe corrupt officers to enter recipient countries.

Without passports the girls, aged 21 and 24, of Chitungwize Zimbabwe entered Lesotho using other people’s passports, after paying police officers M100.

The duo were lured to Maseru under the guise of being sponsored to study at the National University of Lesotho (NUL) only to be sexually exploited and coerced to strip at night clubs by a fellow Zimbabwean who also happened to be their other sister’s boyfriend.

Upon arrival in February 2012 they were locked in a flat that was rented by one of the Zimbabweans for 10 days with one or two meals a day instead of being sent to university as initially promised.

MNN Centre for Investigative Journalism has learned their trafficker, Alfred Mukwende, would bring his friends to sexually abuse the girls. He would order them to strip for men to repay the expenses of travelling to Lesotho before they could go to school or face hunger.

In their statements captured by Inspector Khoeli and Sergeant Sehau of the police special investigation unit on April 17, 2012, the duo said back home “we lived with our sister who was Alfred’s girlfriend and they arranged these things together”.

Narrating how they fell into this trap, the younger sister said “I met a man called Alfred Mukwende who is my sister’s boyfriend. He asked me about my education and I showed him my certificate”.

She says Mukwende claimed he was a lecturer at NUL and before returning to Lesotho, he convinced them to come with him to further their studies, promising to pay their tuition fees.

“In December 2011 we met again at my sister’s residence in Zimbabwe. I was with my sister, (name withheld) who was working at Dzicarasekwa, Zimbabwe,” she said, adding that her sister was also encouraged to drop her job and come to Lesotho.

“In February 2012, Alfred called us to find out whether we had arranged to come to Lesotho. We told him that we had not yet secured our passports but he insisted that we should come without them. He promised to collect us at the Beitbridge border between Zimbabwe and RSA.”

In a different statement, her sister who had also fallen for Alfred’s story said he used to call them every day and sometimes three times a day. “He said he had also paid for accommodation and bought the things that we would use, like beds and stoves,” she noted.

During the night of February 11, 2012, the duo embarked on their journey to Lesotho with transport money that could only take them to Musina in Limpopo South Africa, where Mukwende had promised to pick them up.

“We arrived at Beitbridge border on February 12, 2012 in the morning where we paid the boys at the border R300 to help us pass through. The boys gave us other people’s passports so we passed,” she said.

When the girls got to Musina, they called Mukwende who told them that he could not pick them but asked that they take a taxi to Johannesburg and he would be waiting for them at Johannesburg park station where he would pay for the taxi.

He kept changing statements and making excuses. He ended up sending them M800 through taxi drivers from Lesotho.

They took the same taxi to Lesotho and arrived at Maseru Bridge at 2200hrs.

“When we were in the taxi that came to Lesotho we met another Zimbabwean man who helped us with his phone to call Alfred so that he could pick us up at the border. We waited for Alfred to come with that Zimbabwean man (Blessing Didmus Tsodzo); he eventually arrived.”

Exhausted, the girls said they did not attend Mukwende on his arrival but only Tsodzo went to him.

Upon his return, they said, Tsodzo told us that Alfred asked him where he met us because we just came to Lesotho without his consent, further saying that he did not have accommodation and asked Tsodzo to provide us with a place to sleep that night.

“He took us and Tsodzo in his car and paid the money for us to enter Lesotho. He paid M100 to police officers at the border gate. They took us to Khubetsoana where Tsodzo’s brother lives.”

They stayed there in one room with another man from Zimbabwe for 10 days and would only provide them with none, one or two meals a day.

They said Mukwende was dismissive when they asked him why they were staying with a man whereas yet he had assured them he had made proper preparations for them before they left Zimbabwe.

Instead of taking them to NUL, the girls said Mukwende was talking about Limkokwing (University of Creative Technology).

“Several days later Alfred took our certificates and said he would use them to apply. But he later brought a man he claimed was responsible for admissions and sponsorships from Econet. He told us the man would facilitate our admission on condition that one of us slept with him. We refused. After that he never mentioned Limkokwing again.

“He then told me he wanted me to replace my sister as his lover. I asked him why he had lied to us in the first place and he asked if I thought paying fees would come with no strings attached when even our own parents could not afford the payment. He added even if our sister slept with a hundred men she could still not afford to pay the fees.”

The girls claimed Mukwende stopped talking about school, except to say the fees were too high. “He said he would take one of us to university and the other must work but my sister refused. He then changed his tune and told us we should look for jobs.”

As time passed, Tsodzo told them the owner of the house would be coming from Zimbabwe so they had to find a place to stay. “That guy arrived and we called Alfred because now there were four of us in a single room,” they said.

The Centre learned Mukwende drove the girls around town while threatening to dump them at the border if they defied his instructions. “In the evening we went with him to the bars and clubs around Maseru and we would come back the next morning around 0300hrs.”

Mukwende found them a new place but left them without food for five days; they starved. “Sometimes when we called him he would just laugh and tell us we would get used to it,” they said. Mukwende’s friend, known only as Thabang, was sympathetic and arranged them a place at Marabeng.

“When things got bad we started calling our sister and our mother telling them about our situation. Our father asked us to go back home and we arranged with our father to send us money into Thabang’s bank account.”

The girls were taken by surprise by Mukwende’s sudden re-emergence. He told them they had to go back to Zimbabwe and promised to give them money that would only get them to Johannesburg. A few days later, Tsodzo arrived at their place with police officers and they were charged with staying in Lesotho illegally. That is when they related their story.

Mukwende was charged and his case was head on June 27 to 28 in 2012 but before it could be finalised, he died in car a accident in South Africa and the investigating officer, sergeant Sehau told the Centre that they had to drop the case.

The Beautiful Dreams Society also intervened by assisting the girls enrol at NUL and the two have since completed their first degrees with one currently working in Thailand while the other returned to Zimbabwe.

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